CATSKILL — A resolution to alter engineering contracts for the new county jail stirred things up at the Greene County Legislature’s Public Safety Committee meeting Monday.
A $39 million U.S. Department of Agriculture bond to build the new jail in Coxsackie was approved by the legislature on Sept. 19, with an amendment capping the number of beds at 80.
The former jail on West Bridge Street in Catskill was closed on April 20 after it was declared unsafe. The county received approval from the state Commission of Corrections for the proposed jail on Nov. 20, with strong recommendations to increase the size — particularly the female section, which has 16 beds.
Monday’s resolution, approved by a 10-1 vote with three absences, amended contracts with SMRT Architects and Engineers, The Pike Company and Delaware Engineering by adding dollar amounts at $655,271, $1,012,858 and $297,700, respectively.
Legislators Kevin Lewis, R-Greenville; William Lawrence, R-Cairo; Harry Lennon, D-Cairo; Patrick Linger, R-New Baltimore; and Charles Martinez, R-Coxsackie; voted for the resolution.
Kevin Lennon, D-Catskill; voted against it. Legislators Lori Torgersen, D-Windham; and Aidan O’Connor Jr., D-Durham; were absent.
Catskill resident Scott Myers asked to address lawmakers on the matter.
Residents who wish to speak have to be introduced by a legislator from their district. Kevin Lennon allowed Myers five minutes to speak and advised him not to personally attack individual legislators in his comments.
“This $2 million should not be awarded,” Myers said. “These companies were paid $3 million already.”
When introducing the resolution, Greene County Administrator Shaun Groden said the only thing changing is the language of the contracts.
“You [the legislature] previously approved these contracts,” he said. “We’re changing the language to meet the USDA qualifications. We’re not adding any money. The money spent is included.”
Myers criticized the lack of funding in the 2019 budget for new programs for alternatives to incarceration, as recommended to the board by the ATI Committee in September 2017.
Lawmakers did not eliminate funding for probation in the budget.
“A new jail without ATI is not justified,” Myers said. “Bill Lawrence did not attend the ATI meetings nor the architecture meetings. Neither did Matt Luvera or any legislator, really. I attended every one.”
Harry Lennon objected. “That’s not true,” he said, adding that both he and Lawrence attended several meetings.
“Don’t say we weren’t there — we were there,” he said.
Kevin Lennon objected to the legislators cutting into Myers’ time.
“Let him speak, and then you can counter,” Lennon said.
Lewis did not agree.
“That’s not why we’re here,” he replied.
Luvera also attended several meetings, he said.
Myers continued past the unrest.
“We do not have an honest needs assessment,” Myers said. “We denied the regional jail study, we denied the funding of the wholly responsible ATI as a standing committee to manage our social and noncourt services. We did not reform the horrific sheriff’s office, deemed the second worst in the state only above Riker’s, which is closing.
“We are already successfully using a regional jail solution — which we all know is perfectly legal — and meeting our security needs.”
Adding new ATI programs has been a hot topic for the legislature in the jail project discourse — especially over the last month as budget talks continued.
Both residents and lawmakers asked for funds to be set aside for new programs and positions to improve local criminal justice.
Torgersen attempted to secure funding for ATI by drafting an amendment that would allocate $330,000 for coordinator and case manager positions at $50,000 each and a support navigator position at $30,000. Additionally, the amendment allocated $200,000 for residential costs.
O’Connor proposed the amendment, drafted by Torgersen, at a Finance Committee meeting Nov. 19, but the amendment failed to get a second and did not make it into the 2019 budget, which was approved by the legislature Nov. 20.
Torgersen and O’Connor voiced their disappointment as they cast their votes against the budget.
Lawrence expects the issue will be revisited, he said in November.
“There’s no doubt we’ll look at this again next year,” Lawrence said. “This is not a dead issue — it’s just postponed.”